CHA Golf and its champions

The Coronado Historical Association invites you to the next lecture in the Wine & Lecture series: Coronado Golf & Its Champions (1897-1905). Speaker David Mackesey will share the story of Coronado’s earliest two golf links and the Coronado connection to Carnoustie’s Alex Smith, who went on to win the U.S. Open in 1906 and 1910.

Reception at 5:30 pm, followed by the 6:00 pm lecture. Doors open at 5:20 pm.

Important Registration Information: Attendance is restricted to fully vaccinated persons with a booster shot. Capacity is limited and reservations are required. No walk-ins will be admitted. If you have any questions please email info@coronadohistory.org or call (619) 435-7242. This lecture’s Wine Sponsor is Fallbrook Winery.  Click here to learn more about the Fallbrook Winery and its wines.

The California Limited, Santa Fe Route. 1900-1901. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

CORONADO GOLF AND ITS CHAMPIONS (1897 - 1905)

by David Alan Mackesey

“The growth of the game is something marvelous in this country.  It is as firmly entrenched as the national game itself.  But it has not become fully acclimated, and players still look with awe on the people of merry England and canny Scotland who have the mysterious twist of the wrist that makes success.” - San Diego Union, November 21, 1897

America in 1897 was a country on the rebound.  The devastating financial crisis, coined The Panic of 1893, was now a retreating memory.  Betting on an economic recovery would seem a fair wager to local captains of industry.    

More than a decade earlier, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway boldly laid tracks to San Diego, hoping to bring throngs of visitors and new residents. The progress was painfully slow.  For almost a decade, Hotel del Coronado waited impatiently for Americans to gain a travel lust and discover its wonders.  For E. P. Ripley and D. B. Robinson of the Santa Fe, and E. S. Babcock, Jr., of Hotel del Coronado, it seemed that day may have finally arrived, and they wasted no time getting ready.

 Left: E.P. Ripley. c.1915. Library of Congress.

Right: E. S. Babcock. c. 1893. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

Coronado Island’s natural wonders were already beyond compare.   Scenery, climate, ocean breezes, and botanical gardens, framed a natural paradise.  A long list of activities was created to keep the visitors entertained and enticed, to stay at the hotel for just a few nights more….maybe a week, but then, why not another month?  Sun and surf bathing, deep sea fishing, bowling, billiards, bicycling, equestrian sports, a museum, ostrich farm, and even donkey rides for the little ones.  


Those wealthy enough to be in America’s traveling class were fast taking up a game called golf.  Private golf clubs with exclusive memberships were spreading like wildfire from New York to Chicago, Boston to Atlanta.  In the winter, these upper crust members followed the sun to Florida and California, bringing with them a golf infatuation, creating a willingness to open their pocketbooks.

Hotel Del Coronado must have a golf course, but finding a golf expert to the west of the Mississippi River was no easy task.  Unlike the past decade, this time, Lady Luck was on their side. Coronado resident Thomas Wilkerson Tetley, "T. W." to all who knew him, was born in Cheshire, England, and had been raised with the game of golf, Oxford-educated, dabbled in journalism, public works, banking, and recently was made a US citizen.  He was already employed by Babcock, and had earned his trust.  

T.W. Tetley. The San Francisco Examiner.

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May 1897

Tetley and Babcock were men of action, and the prospects of a golf course occupied their minds.  The peak winter traveling season would be here before long, there was no time to dither.

A prime location was selected, just south of the line between the Ferry Landing and the hotel, on the mostly unused land occupying the southeast corner of Coronado.  Tetley used his playing experience to lay out nine holes covering 2730 yards.  It included natural bunkers, road hazards, twice over a fence, through eucalyptus and pepper trees, while beginning and ending at the soon-to-be constructed golf clubhouse.  

Original golf course layout by T. W. Tetley. 1897. Accessed through the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Overlay showing the original course location in 1897 (red) over the 1886 lithograph published by the Coronado Beach Company. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

With the golf course planning complete, and construction ongoing, Babcock, a true self-promoter, immediately added to the August advertising placements that the Hotel Del Coronado, the BEST SUMMER RESORT, now included “New Golf Links”.   Golf for the summer and fall season, was now open to visitors, but the turf had had little time to recover from the course creation.  No matter, the upcoming winter crowds were the true target, and as Babcock wrote to Tetley, “…the parties who are using the Golf Links seem to be very well satisfied with it as it is”.  

By November the course was being readied for the new year and it became obvious, to have a high-quality golf course, you needed someone experienced to care for it.  The solution again was T. W. Tetley.  His other duties relieved, he now had “charge of the golf links”.  Touting his choice to the press, Babcock beamed, “Mr. Tetley played golf on his native heath, and knows the ancient rules of the game, which, like the constitution of England, are not written.”

Coronado Golf Links ad in the Los Angeles Herald. August 13, 1897.

At the start of December, Tetley and Babcock exchanged letters planning the formation a golf club.  Every proper golf course had one, and Coronado would be no different.  An informal club at first, artistic championship award gold pins were designed featuring the California Poppy. Beautifully fashioned, Babcock was impressed.

Improvements moved quickly.  Plans for a proper clubhouse were left to the local, but highly skilled architect R. C. Reamer.  His work pleased Babcock, and with quick approvals, for block 43 - lots 13 & 14 were promptly constructed.  Babcock’s The 1898 golf season held promise as the best place in the West to enjoy the ancient game.

“It is 40’ square, surrounded by broad verandas, and is a pleasant place at which to spend the forenoon, or view the game in the afternoon.”  

Sunset Magazine’s very first-ever edition, May 1898 described the clubhouse as: “…Bungalow style, one-story, with its dark green roof projecting over a wide veranda, extending around the building.”

By the end of 1898, Coronado golf was thriving.  The time was right to transition from an informal golf club to a formal one.  Articles of Incorporation for the Coronado Golf Club were filed in the County Clerks Office December 20th, 1898.  Babcock’s only son, 25-year-old Graham Babcock was elected President.  The club was “established for a term of fifty years, no capital stock, no shares and no subscriptions to stock or shares by any person”.  The members now had a formal club, while Hotel del Coronado strategically held the land assets under its control.  

Unusual for the times, Mr. and Mrs. Tetley joined the club as charter members, despite T. W. also being employed as the club professional.  Four directors joined President Babcock, local community men B. W. McKenzie, U. F. Newlin, J. C. Hizar and W. S. Goodlett.  

Even before the building was completed, E. S. Babcock immediately wrote up the contract to lease the clubhouse and grounds to the golf club.  Maybe the simplest contract in the history of Hotel del Coronado.  Signed by his very own son,  Coronado Golf Club President Graham Babcock, a five-year lease duration, from January 1, 1899 until January 1, 1904.  Lease amount, $1.00 per annum.

The Old Clubhouse from the brochure "Concerning Hotel del Coronado and Coronado Beach". 1900. Hotel del Coronado Archives.

Left: Original Clubhouse location highlighted at block 43, lots 13 & 14. Detail of Coronado Lot Map. 1888. Coronado Historical Association Collection. Right: Original Clubhouse contract. 1899. Coronado Historical Association Collection.

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Walter Hamlin Dupee

Walter Hamlin Dupee at Coronado. Coronado Historical Association.

Throughout the 1898 Coronado golf season, Walter Hamlin Dupee, the only son of the ultra-wealthy and highly successful businessman, John Dupee, was developing a love of the game.  Walter already had many expensive interests to keep him busy.   Polo, hunting, deep sea fishing and ranching had topped the list, but the golf bug had bit him hard, and held him firmly under its spell.  

When the Dupee family did anything, they did it in grand style.  John Dupee and his business partner Gustavus Schwartz operated Chicago’s most powerful brokerage house.  In sport, they founded the Washington Park Club, Chicago’s largest membership club.  They spent the summers with fellow millionaires in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and the winters, of course, on Coronado Island.  In June, 1898, Washington Park Club’s very own Scottish golf professionals Fred Herd and Alex Smith finished first and second in the US Open.  The US Open Trophy now in Washington Park’s possession, it was proudly displayed in the grand clubhouse for all to admire.  The next month, Alex Smith joined Walter Dupee’s summer holiday at The Country Club of Oconomowoc, on beautiful Lac La Belle.  He offered lessons to members, played exhibitions and improved the two-year-old golf course design.

To Walter, it was painfully clear that golf at Coronado was still in its infancy.  As available and helpful as T. W. Tetley was laying out the course and caring for it, in championship golf terms, he was simply little more than a duffer.  Walter planned a grand gift to Coronado for the 1899 season, as only he could, and soon, everything would meet lofty expectations.

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Thursday, January 26, 1899, late in the day

After the two week journey from Carnoustie, Scotland, road-weary Alex Smith checked in to Hotel Del Coronado, Room 589.

Walking through the front doors of Hotel Del Coronado for the first time is impressive to even the most seasoned of travelers.  But for this 25-year-old, working-class club maker from the small seaside village of Carnoustie, Scotland, entering as a guest, Walter Dupee’s guest no less, was as far-fetched as taking a stroll on the moon.    The Dupee’s had set in motion his whirlwind journey.

Alex Smith first set foot in America just ten months earlier, March of 1898.

Then, everyone knew him as a skilled golf club maker and a top-notch player.  His wife and young daughter had waved goodbye at the train station in Carnoustie, as he took a temporary eight-month assignment as club maker at the Washington Park Club in Chicago for the 1898 season.   His round-trip sailing reserved a return voyage home in November.  Soon after arriving in the States he learned he would be a father again, and chances were good he would be home in time for the birth of his second child.

The most powerful of Chicago’s business leaders quickly took to him.  Five feet eight and one half inches tall, pistons for forearms and wrists like tempered steel wire, this decade earlier blacksmith apprentice now found a much different calling.  His skills were in great demand in what his countrymen call this land of Brother Jonathon.  His style was direct, as he looked you straight in the eye. His words were clear and amplified by his profound Scottish brogue.  By June of 1898, he set himself apart from his fellow Scottish golf professionals, leading in his first US Open through 54 holes, eventually finishing second.  Walter Dupee decided then, he wanted Alex by his side whether in Chicago or Oconomowoc for the summer, and now, Coronado for the winter.

In Scotland, Alex’s father was employed as a full-time green keeper earning a commonplace wage of £1/week.  Shocking, even to his own father, Washington Park Club offered a Alex £2 per week retainer while absent in the winter months.  In exchange, Alex need only to promise to return to Washington Park in April for the 1899 season.   To sweeten the deal,  Walter offered to sponsor Alex’s globetrotting travels, for the full winter season, as his guest at the grand Hotel Del Coronado.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the start of championship golf on Coronado.

"Our Alex" Smith, US Open Champion 1906 & 1910. Courtesy of David Mackesey.

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January 29, Alex Smith’s third day on Coronado 

Babcock was ready to crow about his golf course in advertisements for Hotel Del Coronado.

San Diego Union and Daily Bee

 “The finest golf grounds on the coast, and the only ones in the state having grass greens”

On the Beach and the Coronado Links

A cool day, with a high temperature of 65 degrees, the largest crowds of the last year gathered on the beach for a concert by the band of the flagship Philadelphia.  Golf Club members were hosting a casual handicapped tournament, but the highlight of the day was a golf match between local expert T. W. Tetley and the newly arrived Alex Smith.  Tetley invited Smith to a match at his Coronado Links.  Twice around the golf course, 18 holes of match play, each hole won scored as one point.  The crowd sentimentally favored Tetley, but it was clear from the start, Alex Smith was no part-time golfer.  The 1898 US Open runner-up announced his presence to the Coronado Links with a resounding victory, “He won the game by 6 holes up”.

Over the next month, as Walter Dupee’s guest and personal golf tutor, Alex openly shared his knowledge of course design, club making and teaching, all the while showing off his championship playing skills. A true professional, there was no one within a thousand miles able to provide a real challenge on the links. 

Alex was away on a hunting trip in Mexico with Dupee and his friends, when T. W. Tetley made a not so surprising announcement, he was leaving Coronado.  In February he applied for, and secured, the golf professional position at the San Rafael Golf Club, near San Francisco.  He simply found it impossible to be considered a golf expert, when arguably the top golf expert in America was a face in the crowd.  Tetley harbored no hard feelings, as he and his wife would return often, becoming yet another set of loyal vacationers on Coronado Island.

Before departing in March for the season, Alex Smith left strict instructions on improvements to the links to be completed in his absence.   Babcock would see that the work would be completed.  Indeed, Alex would be welcomed to return the next winter season, but this time, he would need to bring his competition with him.

December 3, 1899 - Alex Smith’s Second Season at Coronado

Alex Smith arrived to the hotel late in the day, and checked into room 217.  Soon he transferred to nearby Nadeau House, where Babcock’s key employees made their winter home. His second season at Coronado would be different, as a celebrity golf teacher, and now on the hotel professional staff.  Once Babcock confirmed his star golfer had indeed arrived, advertisements were placed in the Los Angeles Times boasting his presence.  Babcock now had his champion golfer to match his championship golf course.

Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1899.

Christmas was fast approaching, and it was the first time in his life Alex would miss the holiday with family in Carnoustie.  Being busy was the best distraction.  He announced a Christmas Day member golf tournament and interest was pronounced “at white heat”.

Rains came as if on schedule December 17th, and “rendered the links absolutely irresistible, and in prime condition”.  The Christmas Day golf tournament, nine holes for ladies at 10:00, and eighteen holes for gentlemen at 2:00.  Golf handicapping to be on an honor system, and Alex Smith would be in charge.  “Those wishing to enter are to leave their names and three best scores with Mr. Smith by evening of the 24th.  Suitable prizes will be given for the best scores.”

Christmas Day 1899 announced itself with a jolt to those in luxurious slumber at Hotel del Coronado.  At 4:25 AM, every single bed jumped off the floor from a 6.7 magnitude earthquake centered just 60 miles away, near the city of San Jacinto.  No injuries or major damage was reported, but the golf tournament and several other planned activities could easily be moved to  the following  day.  Those who wished to golf or practice, were encouraged to do so , while the Hotel made sure that the little ones who had a Christmas Day begin with a shaky start, would finish well.  At 7:30 that evening, 300 children entered the grand ballroom and circled the brilliant Christmas tree as the orchestra struck, joining in song.  When Santa Claus was introduced, he “hastened to excuse himself for the commotion his coming had caused early in the morning”.

The next day, the Oconomowoc millionaires who flocked together for the winter at Coronado, joined Walter Dupee, Gustavus Schwartz, railroad magnate D. B. Robinson and son-in-law Gale Thompson to watch and play in Alex’s tournament.  

Miss Eleanor McCalla was allowed a handicap of 18 strokes, and won a silver loving cup by scoring a 61.  In the men’s tournament, Alex’s top student, Walter Dupee, earned the lowest total score at 98, with no handicap allowance.   The hotel’s  Head Clerk U. F.  Newlin scored 103, with a handicap of 8 strokes, net to 95 in order to take home the men’s silver cup.  As he hosted a clubhouse gathering in the forenoon, Alex’s first tournament at Coronado was hailed as a success.  

January 11, 1900 - Travel Day

Many in the Christmas tournament crowd already had the upcoming professional match in January in Oakland, California, on their minds.  Three of the top golfers in America, Alex Smith, Willie Anderson and Horace Rawlins committed to a full California winter season, and were situated at their clubs.  Even Coronado sentimental favorite T.W. Tetley confirmed he would join the Oakland tournament field. Coronado’s Oconomowoc contingent wouldn’t miss California’s first ever professional golf tournament.  Dupee was interested in the tournament for many reasons, but primarily, as a platform to convince his friends to advocate having their own professional tournament at Coronado, just as he did last summer at Oconomowoc.  The Thompson’s, Walter Dupee and Gustavus Schwartz joined as guests of D.B. Robinson, in his private Pullman car, traveling north to San Francisco and the nearby Oakland Golf Club.

January 13 - Day One

California’s first ever professional golf tournament began Saturday afternoon at Oakland Golf Club, Adams Point, downtown Oakland.  The Coronado crowd and other spectators kept their distance as the players completed the first two times around the 9 hole course.  Earlier rains adversely effected golf course conditions, with balls occasionally settling in standing water, making for some of the most entertaining shots.  An evening telegram to Hotel del Coronado reported to all interested parties that Alex Smith trailed Horace Rawlins by two strokes on day one, with the remaining field falling in behind. 

January 14 - Day Two

The players and spectators arrived early Sunday morning for the 10:30 start.  The Coronado crowd watched as photographer Walter Haskell assembled the players, caddies and other children to pose for the camera.  Alex Smith seated first, his close friend and fellow Scot Willie Anderson, close beside him. Englishmen Horace Rawlins and T. W. Tetley seated together to the left of center, Tetley’s arms draped around the 1895 US Open winner.  Though Alex had yet to win a US Open, he had a natural way of being the center of attention, even for a photo at Rawlins’ own Oakland Golf Club.

Smith and Anderson started first, just after 10:30, and finished the 18 holes in a brisk pace, just after 1:00.  Alex may have had top billing for the photo, but Rawlins won the two day event by six strokes. He took top prize money of $100 to Alex’s runner-up prize-$50.  The tournament was a success for the Oakland Golf Club, but Walter Dupee had bigger plans.   D. B. Robinson’s Pullman car carried the gang back to Coronado the next day, and Dupee shared his Coronado plan in detail.

Seated (R to L) Alex Smith, Willie Anderson (with his arm around Smith), Horace Rawlins, T. W. Tetley (with his arm around Rawlins) at the Oakland Golf Club.  Image property of The Club at Lac La Belle, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

January 22- The Announcement

“Alex Smith of the Coronado Golf Club has made an arrangement with the crack golf Professionals Horace Rawlins, Willie Anderson and James Melville, for an exhibition tournament to take place on the Coronado links Saturday, February 3, under the auspices of the local club.”

Putting on a top golf tournament requires a team effort.  Babcock, Coronado Golf Club, Dupee and Smith possessed all the parts.  Babcock’s golf course and hotel provided a perfect venue, while the Club proved a most able host.  Dupee’s contributions of experience, leadership, enthusiasm and wealth were unmatched.  Alex Smith brought the ability to play championship golf, and more importantly, knew what it took to convince other top golfers to make the time to join in the tournament. No real secret, first and foremost, treat the professionals with respect.  Treating them well Coronado style meant allowing the opportunity to stay in the hotel, offering  a prize purse worth the effort of time and travel, and make it a fair fight.  Walter Dupee had already earned Alex’s trust.  Babcock was Alex’s employer, and his interest was high.  

Alex mailed a formal letter of invitation to Willie Anderson, Horace Rawlins and James Melville describing the details of the event.  A professional golf tournament on the Coronado links February 3rd, 1900.  Sleeping rooms provided by Hotel del Coronado, a handsome prize purse provided by the members and guests of the Coronado Golf Club, and the tournament run under the guiding hand of Alex Smith, club professional.  The players confirmed their intention to travel to Coronado and play. Babcock publicly announced the event in Southern California newspapers on January 23rd.  

Professional golf in California was on the rise.  Hotel del Coronado took the lead for love of the game, and of course, the potential increase in business.  Golf enthusiasts cheered, but the fledgling Southern California Golf Association scowled.

The self-anointed authority for amateur golf in the Southland was not consulted on the date, and voiced a public protest.  They had recently announced their own association’s amateur golf tournament on the same February 3rd date, hosted by the Santa Catalina Club, Catalina Island.  This protest meant little to nothing to a professional golfer like Alex Smith or businessman E. S. Babcock.  But the gentlemen/members leading the sister golf clubs in Northern California, where Anderson, Rawlins and Melville were employed, preferred the date be changed to avoid conflict.  Babcock reluctantly changed the date by a week, to February 10th.  Not surprisingly, this did little to ease the growing tension between the high society golf clubs and the profit seeking hotels with golf courses.  The professional golfers made a living in many ways, and taking time away from work to attend hotel golf tournaments naturally took  time away from their private club employers.  So if a club desired a top shelf golfer as a professional, these tournaments are fast becoming a necessary evil, and the clubs gave their permission for their employees to take the week away and travel south to Coronado.

Los Angeles Times. February 4, 1900.

February 8 - Noon

Walking through the front door in many of America’s highbrow private country clubs could get a golf professional fired on the spot.  In stark contrast, Alex Smith promised his fellow professionals the red carpet treatment, and the Coronado Country Club members delivered. Golf professionals Willie Anderson, Horace Rawlins and James Melville were welcomed through the front doors of the Hotel del Coronado.  Checking into the combination guest room #250 for a three night stay, announced the arrival of championship golf tournaments to Coronado Island.

After a grand hosted luncheon in the main dining room, Alex Smith and Walter Dupee escorted the professionals, and the Coronado golf devotees, to the links.  This was to be a friendly contest, and an introduction to the course layout for two days of practice.  

February 10 - 10:00 am  

“…the Great day of days at the Coronado golf links for the long-awaited professional tournament…”  - San Diego Union

If Coronado was going to host a professional golf tournament, it was going to be in full pageantry and uniquely in Coronado style.  Private carriages and faster-paced tally-ho’s filled with patrons, paraded to the links to follow the players for those desiring “to enjoy the day in that comfortable sort of way”.  The walking throng of red-jacketed followers getting even closer to the action.  A short ferry ride away, the San Diego Golf Club members were invited to join in as spectators.  In all, hundreds crowded the nine-hole golf course, and witnessed championship golf as never before seen on the island.  

 Traditional Coronado parade of private carriages and faster-paced tally-ho's. Huntington Library. 

Famous gentleman golf expert John Duncan Dunn arrived in time to officiate the contest and report on it for the Los Angeles Herald’s next-day edition.  This despite big news of his own, his engagement to the daughter of Los Angeles High Society’s Henry Wilshire.  It was the talk of the town.

By 10:30 in the morning, Duncan formally announced the golf experts and the stakes.  One hundred dollars in gold to the winner, $75 to the runner-up, and $50 to 3rd and 4th place.  

Golf in 1900 required its functional rituals.  Alex Smith’s caddie used a thimble full of sand to slightly elevate the hand-made gutta-percha rubber golf ball slightly above ground level.  Using a self-made hickory shafted golf club, his powerful frame turned and launched the sphere over 200 yards down the first fairway.  Anderson, Rawlins and Melville followed suit, and Coronado’s first championship was finally underway.

The gallery held in quiet anticipation before each of Alex Smith’s shots, erupting in applause when the sharp crack of club-hitting-ball filled the air.  An obvious Coronado favorite, he was a source of pride for many, and affectionately referred to as “Our Alex”.  The first two times around the nine-hole layout, Alex led the field taking 91 strokes, to 95 each for Anderson and Rawlins.  Things seemed to be going well for the local favorite.

In the afternoon, twenty-year-old Willie Anderson made a charge, and played several drives over 250 yards. Anderson not just closed the gap on Alex, but shooting a score of 85, took the lead.  One hole remaining for Alex, his tee shot landed squarely on the roadbed.  He had only two more shots to tie Anderson. Unfazed, he took his mashie and laid his approach almost dead to the hole amid great applause from the gallery.  With hundreds surrounding the green, Alex’s next approach rimmed the cup, but stayed out.  Anderson was crowned the first Coronado professional tournament champion, and the two close friends exchanged smiles and firm handshakes.  It wouldn’t be the last time by a long shot.  Over the next decade, this ritual quickly became an annual event in the US Open for Anderson and Smith, with these two winning six times between them.

John Duncan Dunn reported in the LA Herald, “The players were unanimous in their praise of the orderly gallery.  Messrs. Dupee, Schwartz, Thompson, et al made excellent stewards.”

8:30 pm that same evening

Coronado’s legendary hospitality wouldn’t be complete without a grand evening finale.  A ball was given in honor of the players by the guests of Coronado Hotel.

“The marine band of the flagship Iowa is to play for this evening’s dance…but this dance is to differ from others.  In place of evening gowns and dress suits, the popular golf or outing skirts and suits are to be worn. It is safe to say that few seats will be vacant when the dancing begins at 8:30, while the floor, it is expected, will contain several hundred dancers.”

The players departed the next morning, but not without a plan.  Perhaps “Our Alex” could arrange a rematch, and perhaps Walter Dupee, the Oconomowoc crowd and friends, would be favorable to offering another handsome purse.  If there is a next time, “Our Alex” would certainly win!

With the exchange of telegrams, the next tournament was formally arranged, and the Anderson/Rawlins duo agreed to even more generous terms.  The winner’s share increased to $125, second place, $75 and third, $60. Travel expenses to be paid by the Coronado golf enthusiasts.  To give those in the gallery an added interest, the passionate supporters of Alex offered a $250 wager, and those supportive of Anderson took the other side of the bet.

March 5 - Hotel Del Coronado, Room 250

Late in the afternoon, Anderson and Rawlins arrived at Hotel Del Coronado after an overnight journey on The Owl Limited, Southern Pacific’s new luxury train service between San Francisco and Southern California.  Alex Smith, suffering from a bout of influenza, canceled his lesson appointments the day before, but dutifully rose out of his sick bed to properly greet Anderson and Rawlins.  He was the host after all, and his friends arrival warranted his best efforts.

March 7, and the rematch

Rawlins took the lead in the first 18 holes, but in the afternoon, Anderson was simply too much for Smith and Rawlins and took top money.  He bettered his last performance by four strokes, proving to all his first win was no fluke.

  • Anderson - 90 and 86 and $125 top prize
  • Rawlins - 87 and 95 and the $75 second prize
  • Smith - 93 and 93 and a $50 prize

“Alex Smith, the idol of Coronado golf devotees, was evidently not in form, much to the regret of numerous admirers.  While he played a fair game, neither in driving or mashie work was he seen to advantage, while he was not well, he maintains that was no excuse for his poor playing, but says he hopes for another chance.”

March 21, 1900

Wait ‘till next year!

With the season winding down, Babcock had less than one week before Alex Smith journeyed back to Chicago for the summer season, and he made the most of it.  By all measures, the Coronado golf season of 1900 was a success, and Babcock believed 1901 could be even better.  

After three full seasons, the current nine-hole course was simply not going to do.  When it was first opened, you could count the number of golf courses in Southern California on one hand.  Now, dozens of golf courses populated the Southland.   Many were newer than Coronado, and some were even considered better.  Babcock demanded his course be the best, and the time was now to make needed improvements.  He instructed Alex Smith to clear his calendar for the day.

NEW GOLF LINKS 

San Diego Union and Daily Bee, Thursday, March 22 1900

“Prof. Alex Smith, golf instructor of the Coronado club, announces that he will be unable to give lessons today, having most urgent and important business on hand—the laying out of a new 18-hole golf links.  Think of it, dream of it, golfers, great and small!!  This season has proven that the present Coronado links are not equal to the number of players.  The crowded condition during the past few months has settled it—the location and size of the links must be changed.  The coming links, 18 holes, that are to be without equal for beauty of location and excellence of course, are to occupy the space of ground from K Street to Spanish bight, and from the ocean to the bay, with perhaps a little trespassing on the race track grounds.  The present links have needed “fixing” for some time, and they are to be taken care of in the way Coronado folks do things generally.

A lovely turf covers the new site, and according to golf experts, terms it will be just ““the sportiest of links.”” Today Alex Smith is laying out the course, assisted by the following authorities on the Scotch game: Messrs. Schwartz, Mathewson, Newlin, Thompson, Anderson and McKenzie, and the labor is one of love.”

The Coronado clan now had a new title for “Our Alex”, it was “Professor”, and why not.  His scholarly knowledge of golf appeared limitless.  He could play, teach, make golf clubs, make golf balls, expound on the rules of golf, care for the links, and now, a golf course architect.  Professor Alex Smith was far more than an honorary title.

Saturday, March 24 1900

No surprise, Babcock was well impressed with Alex’s design.  His written instruction to his civil engineer Andrew Ervast “As soon as you have any time to spare I want you to survey and locate on the map the new golf grounds west of the race track beginning near the corner of block 26.  I will go over and show you their location; they are all staked out.”  

Now Babcock was urgent.  His new golf course needed to be announced, and soon.  After personally showing Ervast Alex Smith’s golf course layout, Babcock immediately sent a second written note lighting a fire under him:  “A. Ervast, Dear Sir, I am exceedingly anxious to have the plat of the golf grounds for Monday morning and would like for you to work Sunday if necessary to give it to me.”  

Alex Smith's golf course design, drawn up and delivered by Andrew Ervast. March 26, 1900. New York Public Library.

Monday, March 25, 1900

Babcock would not be denied, and had to act fast as Alex was boarding an eastbound train in three days.  Babcock handed Ervast’s golf course survey blueprint to Alex Smith for approval.  Babcock also commandeered between 30 and 40 men to immediately start the work at Alex’s direction.  The partnership of Babcock and Smith was flourishing, and with that, a new championship golf course on Coronado was born.  

The golf course measured over 5300 yards and crossed the race course four times.  Around the oval track were both 4’ and 8’ fences, and Alex used them as unique hazards, forcing the golfer to hit the ball in the air to get to the green on five of the holes.  An auxiliary nine-hole course was incorporated into the design for beginners and those with less time, but still wanting a game.  The course was designed to be the best in California, and Mother Nature would soon have her turn at making it so.

Part one of Babcock’s plan for the next season was now in motion, a new golf course.  Part two, the return of Alex Smith for the winter of 1900/1901 was announced to the press before Alex boarding his train.  Part three, was still in the early planning stages.  Everyone was impressed at how golf was filling Pullman cars and hotel rooms for the winter seasons, including E. P. Ripley, golf enthusiast, and President of the Santa Fe Rail.  He was currently visiting Coronado, and witnessing the grip golf held over the wealthy traveling class first hand.  Ripley and Babcock agreed, golf is becoming big business, and big ideas were dancing in their heads.  Still, the grand announcement for the 1901 winter season would have to wait.

—————————————————

Babcock and Ripley’s Part Three for the upcoming winter season of 1901

November 1, 1900

“U.S. Champions who will play in California during the Winter of 1900-1901” David Bell and Willie Smith will ride the rails of the Santa Fe to California in January, and make Coronado their headquarters for a fully scheduled winter season.”

Original Clubhouse, from "Golf in California". December 1900. From the Sante Fe Route Passenger Department.

GOLF IN CALIFORNIA

Published by the Passenger Department, Santa Fe Route, Chicago, Ill

“FORE”

“Once a golfer, always a golfer; for the true devotee is a slave to the game.  Golf in California is no longer in its infancy.  The trip to the California links can be made in three days from Chicago, or four days from Atlantic coast cities.  The Santa Fe takes pleasure in announcing that the noted champions, David Bell and Willie Smith, of the Midlothian Club, Chicago, will give exhibition games in California. Both were born at Carnoustie, Scotland—also, by the way, the birth-place of Alexander Smith, of the Washington Park Club, Chicago, who will be at Coronado for the winter months.  David Bell is the present United States open champion, and the longest driver in the world.  Willie Smith has competed in twelve tournaments, winning eight prizes; also winning the United States open championship at Baltimore in 1899.  These two men are at the head of golf in America, there can be no doubt.  The difference in skill between the world’s champions, Vardon and Taylor, and the United States champions, Bell and Smith is so slight that no one can say what year the American players might attain the highest place.”

November 22, 1900

San Diego Union: Good News For Golfers.  Alex Smith to Arrive Tomorrow

No one wanted to see Alex more than E. S. Babcock. To the naked eye, the golf course turf and layout were impressive.  But the planned grass greens were not cooperating.  Soft soil, with a thin covering of patchy grass, a grand experiment, but unworkable. Time for plan B, and the standard Southern California clay greens.  Babcock immediately pressed forward to procure the material and labor.

A week later, Alex Smith was joined by Babcock and Newlin to inspect the newly arrived clay to be used in making the greens.  “The clay is of a very fine quality and mixed with sand, by far the best material that can be used to the purpose.  The work of building the greens on the new course is rapidly progressing and golfers are accordingly hopeful and happy.”

Beginning in January, the throngs of golfers kept the original nine holes as busy as in the past.  Bell and Smith arrived to grand fanfare, and as Babcock’s celebrity guests, occupied prime veranda rooms 102 and 103.  These desirable oversized first floor rooms presented views eastward over the island, and even a luxurious private bath.  Normally reserved for society’s upper crust, the honored guests, golf professionals no less, were cared for well by Babcock.

Advertisement in USGA Bulletin. January 1901. Courtesy of David Mackesey.

January 10, 1901

San Diego Union and Daily Bee

DAYS OF FINE SPORT AT CORONADO

Eastern Golf Champions Make A Fine Showing.

“It was a splendid exhibition that was given by the trio of players.  The steadiness of Will Smith was very remarkable considering that he has not played on clay greens since last winter in Florida.  David Bell did some remarkable driving, but Alex Smith, the local professional, proved himself to the superior of both the champions in driving, one of his drives measuring 281 yards.  David Bell made 41, the best score for 9 holes, which is almost perfect golf.  Smith and Bell leave on today’s noon train for Los Angeles.  They will return to Coronado in March when a fine tournament will be given…”

The golf celebrities' return was only 8 weeks away, and left Babcock a short window of time for his promised new 18-hole course..  Alex needed help on all fronts, teaching, club making, and care for the course, to name a few.  That help was well known to Alex, and close by.  Younger brother George Smith was in San Francisco and had replaced T. W. Tetley last year at San Rafael.  Alex offered George the position at Coronado. It would mean leaving San Rafael, but telling his older brother "no" wasn’t in his vocabulary.  

With Babcock’s help from all corners, the new course would be ready, and soon.

February 22, 1901, San Diego Union and Daily Bee

GOLF LINKS TO BE OPENED

18-Hole Course at Coronado

S. Babcock Will Provide Free Bus and Free Luncheon

“Mr. Babcock announces the running of a free bus to the links from the hotel, beginning at 10 o’clock this morning, with a luncheon (at his expense) at what was formerly known as the Taylor cottage, which has been fitted up for a temporary clubhouse.  Certainly, golfers and the many others who go over the links today will have another day to remember.”

In typical Coronado style, the day was rousing success.  Tally-ho’s ran every twenty minutes between the hotel and the links, unable to keep up with demand. The hundreds of golf enthusiasts who planned to attend were joined by hundreds more, who were curious about all the commotion, and joined in the festivities.  The temporary clubhouse was decorated with Japanese bamboo and smilax, with the fragrant low acacia blossoms banked up the mantles and tables.  Refreshments were bountiful, and included various kinds of sandwiches, salads and a claret punch to all visiting the clubhouse.  Between six and seven hundred patrons in total enjoyed Babcock’s hospitality, while marveling at the new golf links.  The links may have taken a bit longer than planned, but well worth the wait, and just as grand as hoped for.

March 21, 1901

HOTEL DEL CORONADO

David Bell and Willie Smith’s last leg of their journey began on March 21st, as they checked into rooms 560 and 561 of the Hotel Del Coronado.  The promise of the best golf ever witnessed on Coronado was about to be fulfilled.  The combination of completed 18-hole links and the appearance of the two top American finishers in the last two US Opens was captivating the imaginations of San Diego’s golf devotees.  

It didn’t take much to imagine the rapid ascent of these four young men from the small Scottish village of Carnoustie.   Half a decade ago, as teenagers, Willie Smith, Alex Smith, George Smith and David Bell were club mates competing for the local championship of Carnoustie Golf Club.  They were grateful for all the attention, but couldn’t be blamed for wondering just how it was they became celebrities.

Saturday, March 23, 1901

March 24, 1901 PROFESSIONAL GOLF PLAY - INDULGED IN AT CORONADO

Alex Smith Seemed to Prove Himself The Champion of the Day

Alex Smith’s day to shine in front of his local admirers had finally arrived, and on his new links no less.  In 1897, he and David Bell battled in the final match for the Carnoustie Club Championship, today they played as partners against his brothers Willie and George.  

“Alex did himself proud, and the enthusiastic cheering crowd that followed were please and to him proud also.”  They won the 18 hole match by 2 holes up. 

At the conclusion of the foursome, the interested gallery demanded a match game between the brothers Alex and Will Smith.  A shorter nine hole match, Alex and Willie played the best golf ever seen on the new links.  Alex played five of the holes in three strokes, Willie earned a 2 on the 324-yard #6.  In the end Alex scored 35 to Willie’s 37.  “When the game was won by Coronado’s professional golfer, his may admirers cheered to the echo”.

The last days on Coronado were filled with golf, fishing, cycling and even an exhibition across the bay on the San Diego Country Club links.  

It was said that David Bell hit a golf ball with reckless abandon.  On March 28th, he rode one of the bicycles that way, and from the fall, broke his ankle. That weekend, Willie and Alex Smith nursed David Bell onto the Los Angeles bound train, and soon, eastbound.  George Smith received and accepted an offer from Babcock to stay on as the interim golf professional.   Interim, because next winter, “Our Alex” would certainly return for the 1902 season.  A season that again promised to be the best ever, if Babcock had anything to do with it.

BABCOCK’S NEW TO-DO-LIST 

The success of the 1901 season was lost on no one.  Babcock and Ripley took both a reputation and business risk on Bell and Smith, and it paid off handsomely.  For Babcock, using the image of the champion golfers in his correspondence was just more good business.  

Now with a true championship golf course established, the question of what to do with the original nine-hole course was upon him.  The land was valuable for other purposes, and the clubhouse structure, like so many others on the island, could be picked up and moved.  

The choice was easy for Babcock.  Move the clubhouse, improve it, and utilize the land from the original golf course for its originally intended purpose.  After all, when the original Coronado community layout was designed 20 years ago, golf wasn’t even an American thought, let alone a dream.  His new course was a masterpiece, and anything else simply would not compare.


Left: Letter from E.S. Babcock promoting golf at Coronado. April 16, 1901. Hotel del Coronado Archives.

Right: U. S. Champions featured in "Golf in California" published by Passenger Department Santa Fe Rail. 1900-1901. California State Library.

March 25, 1901 San Diego Union and Daily Bee

HOTEL DEL CORONADO

OLD GOLF LINKS TO BE ABANDONED

Club Will Soon Move to the New Eighteen-Hole Course

“This will be the closing week in the history of the original 9-hole course.  It is with a mingling of sorrow and joy that the change comes to many of the players, for the course stretching beside Glorietta Bay has been the golfers’ daily stamping ground too only to be abandoned without a pang of regret.

But the new links!  Certainly, they are full of promise of greatness and pleasure.  For adventure of location they could not be better, and when the newness has worn away, those who know, predict that nothing finer in the golf line will exist on the Pacific coast.

The pretty clubhouse will be removed from the old to the new links, and be placed directly opposite the artistic and interesting tea garden.  Another story and fine observatory are among improvements to be made in the clubhouse, which, when remodeled and enlarged, will be an object of pride, not alone to the golfing brother and sisterhood but to all Coronado-ans alike.”

All that was now left for Babcock was gathering together the usual suspects, the trusted tradesmen and architect.  The original clubhouse architect R. C. Reamer was in the ready, and began his work.  He didn’t have much time.  Soon he will be off to far away Wyoming, to design a new structure in the middle of the wilderness, The Old Faithful Lodge. 

Wasting no time, Babcock approved the plans, and on April 22, the clubhouse was relocated.  Reamer’s design added a second story, broad verandas on three sides, above and below.  The improved chimney was two and a half feet deep and constructed by the same mason as the original structure.  From the upper rooms or piazzas, views are had of the ocean, bay, city, mountains, and the hotel with its towers and gables, forming part of the picture.  From here, also, the players may be seen for the entire round of the nine-hole course.  

By August the clubhouse was completed, and open to members and visitors as well.  The newly planned structure adjacent to the clubhouse was simply referred to as the caddy house and painted red to correspond with the color of the club building.  The pool of youngsters for the upcoming season was conspicuous by their absence, negotiated as a group for better wages.  Caddy master Jack Anderton, and his caddies, eventually agreed to 15¢ per nine holes rate, with an additional fee for Sundays.

The New Two-Story Clubhouse. Coronado Historical Association Collection.


The course preparation for the winter season was underway, and 30 barrels of oil were used to recondition the greens, some as large as 120 feet in diameter.

October 30, 1901 Los Angeles Herald

BEST AMERICAN GOLFERS COMING TO THE COAST

“The best professional golfers in the United States will spend the coming winter season in Southern California.  With this array of talent, local devotees of the game may count on seeing some fine exhibitions of golf this winter.  They have not forgotten the brilliant matches afforded by the Smith brothers last season.  Within a few weeks at most, the eastern links will be closed by Jack Frost and the professionals will start for the western links.  In the meantime, the rains have come and the local links are receiving a mantle of green and are becoming much improved for play.”

America’s best indeed.  Months earlier, Alex Smith and Willie Anderson played the 1901 U.S. Open to a tie, with Anderson winning the playoff by one stroke.  David Bell was the top American finisher in the 1900 U.S. Open, and Willie Smith was the 1899 US Open Champion. 

Babcock immediately began planning for Coronado’s red carpet welcome.  The professionals had trouble at the most recent U.S. Open when the host club informed the players they would only be able to take lunch in the kitchen, as the clubhouse was reserved for members and amateurs only.  That would not be the case at Babcock’s Hotel Del Coronado, or his clubhouse.

December 10, 1901

HOTEL DEL CORONADO

Alex Smith arrived in the evening, and promptly made his way to his annual winter home, nearby Nadeau House.  His friends and top students, Walter Dupee and Gustavus Schwartz arrived just days before, and the 1902 season would officially begin.

The newspaper headlined Dupee’s arrival, “Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Dupee, a popular young couple of Chicago, arrived with the usual daily influx last evening.  No one is better known at the hotel than Mr. Dupee, having spent many successive winters at the hotel, whereas a thorough sportsman of position and dignity, he is highly respected.”

 

A friendly match was arranged between Alex and Green Keeper/Caddy Master Jack Anderton.  This allowed them to review course conditions, debate the ongoing caddie controversy, and plan for the biggest golf season yet.

With the upcoming bustling tournament season, avoiding trouble with the caddies was important.  Alex, who as a youngster came from the caddy ranks himself on the links of far away Carnoustie, was naturally sympathetic.  The wage question was important, and so was keeping an ample supply of talented young bag carriers.  Once school was called back in session in January, local caddies would be harder to find.  Everyone agreed, offering free ferry service from San Diego to Coronado for the pre-approved list of 25 young caddies made good sense.

Christmas Afternoon was the grand opening for the season, and the Coronado golfer’s traditional red coats predominated the landscape.  The talk of member tournaments, and professional ones as well, filled the air.

The professional schedule for 1902 included all the best courses in the southland.  Willie Anderson and Willie Smith signed golf club engagements in Pasadena, Arthur Rigby at Los Angeles Country Club, David Bell on Catalina Island, and of course, “Our Alex” in Coronado.  Several of the clubs agreed to host professional tournaments, and Coronado’s hit the schedule on February 8th.  Babcock’s hotel would be ready to roll out the red carpet, and so would his golf course.

The first professional tournament was held in Pasadena in early January, bringing the entire field together. From the start, the gallery could see something was different.  Alex Smith’s already formidable golf talent now simply appeared unbeatable.  Over 36 holes, prevailed by 4 strokes, and the Coronado clan held firmly to the belief that this may finally be “Our Alex’s” year.

January 24, 1902 San Diego Union and Daily Bee

CORONADO CADDIES REPORTED ON A STRIKE

“The Coronado caddies did not want wages cut, and therefore refused to work unless 'the union scale' was adopted by the managers of the links.  The management refused to have anything to do with the schedule, and the older boys walked away from the links declining to work longer.”

Upon Alex’s triumphant return, the local caddie question reached the boiling point.  The local Coronado caddies now had competition, and “the city boys”, those taking the ferry from San Diego, were willing to work for less.  

The faraway San Francisco Chronicle covered the story and reported “The Coronado boys demanded that the city lads adopt the 25-cent rate, which was refused.  The result is daily battles in which caddy sticks are vigorously used.  The city boys are waylaid on the road and are belabored on the golf links.  A number of the youngsters have been incapacitated from service and hostilities are yet in progress.”

Just when things seemed to be boiling over, Mother Nature came to the rescue, with several days of heavy rain that closed the golf course.  The upcoming professional tournament just a week away and passions cooled.   With demand on the golf course at an all-time high, the Coronado caddies who held out for 25¢ per round had plenty of work, as did the “City boys” at 15¢.  The members and visitors held their caddies in high regard, and the marketplace set the price.

The same week, Alex Smith, and all of San Diego, beamed with pride as local girl, Miss Ada N. Smith, won the title, Champion Woman Golfer of Southern California.  One of Alex’s top students, “She plays from scratch at her club and is counted the best player around San Diego”.

His days already filled from dawn ‘till dusk, Alex’s schedule now added the biggest event in Coronado golf history.

Left: Southern California Open 1901. Los Angeles Country Club Archive.

Right: Golf professionals in "Golf in California". 1902. New York Public Library.

The Golf Course, with Hotel del Coronado in the background. c. 1902. Hotel Del Coronado Archive.

Thursday, February 6, 1902

CORONADO 

Professional golfers in Southern California for the winter season traveled from Pasadena, Los Angeles, and Catalina Island to Hotel Del Coronado.  Babcock’s staff arranged the accommodations.  Alex’s brother, Willie Smith, winner of the 1899 U.S. Open, checked into room 86, a fourth-story corner room with a view looking north and east.  David Bell, 1900 U.S. Open Resident Champion occupied room 84.  Fellow Carnoustie Golf Club member Art Rigby between them in room 85.  Willie Anderson, reigning U.S. Open champion after winning in a playoff battle with Alex Smith, occupied room 412, a second-story corner room looking south and east.  Nothing but the best for E. S. Babcock’s guests, the best golfers in America.

All gathered on the links Friday for practice and an exhibition before a large gallery of hotel guests and local golf members.  The next day, the Championship.

Leading Golf Professionals of California who battled at Coronado. Artist rendering.

Saturday, February 8, 1902

A light cloud cover and 60-degree temperatures greeted the golfers.  The San Diego Union and Daily Bee clearly took a side, “Previous to the 10:00 start, many side bets were made by the sporting element in favor of “Our Alex” as Alex Smith is referred to by his many friends at Coronado, where he is considered a peer, both as a player and instructor.  Notwithstanding the almost perfect game that Willie Smith puts up, Alex was by all odds the favorite.  This was made manifest by the large crowd with followed the latter, although many followed Willie around the 18-holes.”

Over the first round of 18 holes, “Our Alex”, played the most perfect golf ever seen on the Coronado links, scoring 71, breaking by one stroke his own course record of 72.  His brother Willie Smith kept pace, one stroke back.

“In the afternoon, high winds interfered somewhat with the play and Alex Smith bade fair to disappoint his supporters, however, from the ninth hole he swung again into his easy, perfect form, and was a delight to the galleries.”

Alex Smith finally prevailed in front of his most ardent supporters, winning over Willie by two strokes.  David Bell earning third money, and Willie Anderson off his game, and seeming out of sorts.  

“A large crowd composed of hotel guests and San Diegans witnessed the match, and the unanimous opinion of the best golfers is that the tournament was the best and most brilliant one ever held on any links west of the Rockies.”

Weeks later, Alex Smith, Dupee, and the Coronado continent rode the rails four hours north to Los Angeles.  The professionals gathered for a sizable prize purse, this time at Los Angeles Country Club, for the Southern California Open.  Alex again led from the start, finishing eight strokes ahead of his nearest competitor, younger brother Willie Smith.  Gold medal in hand, “Our Alex” returned to Coronado triumphant, with a clean sweep of the winter professional season.

Beginning in early April, Alex and his fellow professionals answered the call from their Eastern clubs, where there are lessons to give, greens to dress up, and golf clubs to make. Babcock would not let him leave before making his commitment to the 1903 winter season, to bellowing cheers from the Coronado crowd.

Dec 1, 1902, Walter Dupee arrives, rooms 169 & 170

HOTEL DEL CORONADO 

Walter Hamlin Dupee of Coronado (left) with an unidentified person. c.1902. Coronado Historical Association Collection. 

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Dupee arrived early for the start of the 1903 season, taking their customary corner suite on the first floor, overlooking the ocean to the south.  Alex Smith wasn’t far behind. His first assistant this year, was another fellow Carnoustie Golf Club member and childhood friend, Dick Clarkson. “Coronado has attracted a large number of golfers for several years, and the demands have been so great that a course of eighteen holes had been opened.  Alexander Smith, who twice finished second in the open national championship has been the professional there for several seasons.”1903/2/18, Los Angeles Herald

Alex Smith had not yet won a U. S. Open championship, but he did win the hearts of the Coronado faithful.  His five-season partnership with Babcock served them both well.  They attracted well-heeled golf enthusiasts to stay at Babcock’s hotel for weeks on end.  The professional tournaments attracted large galleries, and the course Alex designed, delighted all levels of golfers, from beginners to the best in the West.

The 1903 season brought change to all corners of the American golf scene.  Alex and Willie Smith came to California as usual.  Willie Anderson spent the winter at home in Scotland, and David Bell took an assignment in New Orleans.  Babcock would make the most of what he had.

The highlight of the Coronado season was the February golf match between Alex and Willie Smith.  Willie checked in the night before as usual, room 580 this season.  Little did he know, he was checking in for the last time.  As for Babcock, while he may have had hidden retirement thoughts on his mind, the 1903 season promised to be his best.

Friday's practice round followed the standard routine.  For maximum viewing, and minimum of logistics, Alex’s shorter auxiliary course design was played.

The gallery following the brothers was treated to a Friday exhibition of golf skill that both tempted and tortured the avid golfer’s mind.   For the first time around this nine-hole layout, Willie Smith set the all-time short course record of 31 strokes.  Nearly perfect golf, and a three-stroke lead.  For the second nine, each golfer used but two strokes to complete the 180-yard first hole.  Not to be outdone by his younger brother, Alex then continued around the remaining 8 holes in 28 strokes, for a new course record total of 30.  Not bad for practice, and Saturday promised even better.

A tournament purse fully subscribed by the members of Coronado Golf Club, the Saturday 36-hole match began with the first 18 holes at 10:00 and the second 18 at 2:00.  A large gallery followed as the two battled over eight hours.

SAN DIEGO UNION, FEB 22, 1903

“As was expected, the match game between the brothers Willie and Aleck Smith, played yesterday over the Hotel del Coronado links, furnished some rare sport.  A large crowd followed the contestants around the course, to get a line on their play, and to catch a few pointers on the game in general.  Naturally, the preponderance of sympathy lay with the local expert, and he justified the hopes of his host of friends by making a very handsome win.”

Smiles and applause around, Coronado’s “Our Alex” prevailed by two strokes over his brother Willie.   

Two short weeks later, Willie repaid the favor, by beating Alex for the Southern California Open Championship, winning by four strokes over his brother, and many more over the remainder of the field.  Alex’s telegram to Hotel del Coronado announced the tournament result to his loyal fans, but another telegram brought sad news.  David Bell, the Coronado favorite in both 1901 and 1902, had a devastating fall and was on death’s door.

————————————

THE AFTERMATH

28-year-old David Bell, still sporting a noticeable limp from his 1902 Coronado bike accident, stumbled and fell from the outdoor stairway of his New Orleans hotel, and lost his life.  The March 19, 1903 edition of San Diego Union reported on his time at Coronado “While there, he made name friends, and was admired for abilities as a golfer by all”. The Bell family brought his body back and reunited him at the family grave site in Carnoustie.

After five seasons together, Babcock and Alex Smith partnered to bring championship golf to Coronado.   As with all good things, this chapter was coming to an end.  Alex departed in April without a contract for next season.

By the summer of 1903, Babcock had reached his exhaustion point.  After a decade and a half, it was time to move on.  In late August the papers reported that concerns for his health were the primary reason. 

After a year hiatus, Alex came back to Coronado for the 1905 season and brought the Southern California Open event from Los Angeles Country Club to Coronado.  In typical Alex Smith style, he won the event in front of his many admirers.  It was indeed his final season at Coronado, but his many friends continued to follow and cheer his efforts.  In 1906 he finally broke through and won the US Open for the first time.  His brother Willie finished second, and his brother-in-law James Maiden finished third.   In 1910 he won his second US Open and joined his dear friend Willie Anderson as the only two multiple-time winners of America’s top championship.  

Gold Medal won by Alex Smith in the Southern California Open at Coronado Country Club. March 7, 1905. Carnoustie Golf Club.

Willie Anderson eventually won a total of four US Opens.  He lost his life in 1910, at the young age of 31, with Epilepsy, combined with alcoholism, as the cause.

Willie Smith tied for the US Open championship in 1908, losing by a stroke to Fred McLeod in a playoff.  In 1910, he set the course record for The Old Course at St. Andrews, in the second round of that year’s Open Championship.  He held that course record until the day he died. His life ended in Mexico City, during the crossfire of the Mexican Revolution in 1916.

Fellow Carnoustie Golf Club member and childhood friend, Robert S. Simpson, took the reins at Coronado after the Great War.  This two-time Western Open Champion carried on the tradition of excellence in golf at Coronado, hosting the grand 1929 Coronado Open.

In 1941, Alex Smith joined Willie Anderson in the inaugural class of the PGA Hall of Fame.

Walter Dupee continued as a sportsman and landowner.  He owned Edgemoor in Santee, Crown Manor on Coronado, and a Wisconsin home, Edgemoor Estate, in Oconomowoc.

The original Alex Smith golf design was partially rerouted before the Great War, to accommodate relocating the clubhouse, and to expand the course to over 5800 yards.  Just after the war, it was lengthened again, to over 6200 yards.  In 1944, the course was again rerouted, and shortened to nine holes, to make way for military expansion. In the early 1950s, the course and golf club ceased operation, only to be reborn in 1957, with the opening of the new Coronado Golf Course.

As they look down from above, I’d like to think even the hard-nosed E. S. Babcock and “Our” Alex Smith would be impressed, as the 125-year tradition of golf on Coronado continues.

"Our Alex" Smith Posing for the Camera at Coronado. 1903. San Diego History Center.

About the Author: 

David Mackesey is the author of the book FROM COUNTRY ESTATE TO COUNTRY CLUB, THE HISTORY OF DIABLO COUNTRY CLUB, is the Club Historian for Carnoustie (Scotland) Golf Club, Historian for Diablo (California) Country Club, and Co-Chair, The Smith Society.